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UN Security Council confronts growing threat of cyber attacks

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Fuel holding tanks are seen at Colonial Pipeline's Dorsey Junction Station, which was shut down by a cyberattack that disrupted gas supply for the eastern US for days, highlighting the growing threat hackers pose to infrastructure./AFP
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Jun 29, 2021 - 05:02 AM

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council on Tuesday will hold its first formal public meeting on cybersecurity, addressing the growing threat of hacks to countries’ key infrastructure, an issue Joe Biden recently raised with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

At their summit earlier this month in Geneva, the US president set out red lines for Russia, which is often accused of being behind major hacks. In this case, he laid out 16 “untouchable” entities, ranging from the energy sector to water distribution.

“This is the generic list of critical infrastructure which every country has,” said one European ambassador who specializes in cybersecurity.

“In the United Nations first committee, we already have agreed in 2015, which is six years ago, that we are refraining from malicious cyber activities against each other’s critical infrastructures as UN member states,” the diplomat said.

Tuesday’s meeting, called by Estonia which heads the Council for the month of June and is a leader in the fight against hacking, is itself being held online, at a ministerial level.

The Security Council has addressed the subject in the past, but only informally, both in public or behind closed doors.

‘Innovative approach’ 

“It is not something where we can sort of put our head under the sand and say it doesn’t exist,” said another diplomat, who also requested anonymity.

“It is a new issue and in the Security Council, as always, it is difficult to bring anything new” after 76 years of dealing with more traditional aspects of peace and security, the official added.

A briefing by Undersecretary General for Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu is due to open the meeting.

The aim of the videoconference, Estonia said, is “to contribute to a better understanding of the growing risks stemming from malicious activities in cyberspace and their impact on international peace and security.”

“Cyber is a dual use domain, we are in a complex situation which is not similar to other international security topics,” said the ambassador.

“So it is not the usual arms control topic where you can sign a treaty and then just verify,” the ambassador added. “You have to have a more innovative approach,” something the diplomat said the meeting would hopefully point to.

Several US companies, including the computer group SolarWinds, the Colonial oil pipeline and the global meat giant JBS have recently been targeted by ransomware attacks, where a program encrypts computer systems and demands a ransom to unlock them.

The FBI has blamed the attacks on hackers based in Russian territory.

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